Greetings, people of the canyon! I’m here to introduce a new addition to the paper. Topanga New Times reached out to me asking if they might share with their readers excerpts from a book I wrote (suffice it to say, this would be a much shorter article had I declined). In this day and age of superhero blockbuster movies and hardworking Olympians with origin and back stories being all the rage, I’ve been asked to share with you the considerably humbler beginnings of this new piece.

As I mentioned, this feature comes from pages of my book. The book was a compilation of things I wrote for a sandwich sign in front of a coffee shop near my home. Those things most often came from thoughts I had while washing my hair. And here we are!

As a devotee of their masala chai (a delicious spiced black tea latte of Indian origin), I was a regular at the coffee shop. I would turn up there around lunchtime drinking chai hot in the fall and winter, cold in the spring and summer. The more familiar my face became the better the owners of the shop came to know me. We developed a friendship, and started to collaborate on creative endeavors from time to time. So, when they told me that I would be writing on a sidewalk sign they’d bought and that they’d be paying me for it in chai, I was amused by the idea of being paid to do anything in chai, had no idea where it would lead, but wasn’t completely thrown for a loop as it wasn’t entirely out of left field for them to charge me with such a task.

I figured I would think of something to write on the sign the first few days, and then defer to Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Mae West. Well, I found that I had more than a few days’ worth of things to say. In fact, it turns out that I am quite chatty. 

I think it is very important to note, and surely this first thing goes without saying, that I am not the Dalai Lama. I do not have a television show. I am not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a degree holder in ancient Greek philosophy. I cannot touch the tip of my nose with my tongue. I have worked mostly as a waitress, and I am a good hula hooper, for whatever that’s worth. 

The reason I mention all of this is that I believe inner peace is a lot more widely available than most of us may think. It is something that I have been looking for, and dontcha know that where I’ve been finding it is right here inside of me. Some days I do not find it as quickly or easily as I do other days. I have learned something very valuable from those more challenging times. When I am struggling with thoughts or feelings that are less than peaceful, I ask myself, “What should I be thinking? What is the lesson here that I could be learning?” I turn the thought upside down. And poof! It is like magic how well that works for me. 

Perhaps I catch myself feeling grouchy. I ask myself what that’s about. I may find the root of it is that I am feeling impatient. Then I know that my lesson is patience. And somehow, even just getting that far helps. Then I ponder on patience, and that is what I would go write about on the sign. Certainly, it is not necessary to write on a sidewalk sign in front of a coffee shop in order to derail an unproductive thought—that just happens to be how I came by the process. 

That job that I got paid for in tea was such an unusual and wondrous opportunity. It has forced (read allowed) me on a daily basis to look at things differently—more closely. As improbable as it is, through a sign on a sidewalk I gained a better understanding of the world, of people, of myself. 

I hope you too will find something in these words, but more importantly, inside yourself, that will bring you further peace and joy.

Topanga New Times readers, I am honored to make your acquaintance. ~Eliza Rhodes

Eliza Rhodes’ book Sign Language is available on Amazon. Look for future Sign Language quotes in this and future issues.